On Biblical Counseling and Psychology

Warren Throckmorten, Professor of Psychology at Grove City College, has had a great series of posts and dialogues on the differences between Biblical Counseling, Christian Psychology, and secular psychology. The impetus of the series are 95 theses on counseling that the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Heath Lambert has issued. Throckmortern is continuing to evaluate the theses in a helpful way.

This interaction has done more to convince me that counseling (Biblical or otherwise) and (applied?) psychology are different fields altogether that overlap in some areas. Counseling can and should be done with people who are not experiencing mental disorders or undergoing trauma, but who simply need guidance. Recent research suggesting that counseling can play a role in curing depression notwithstanding, the goal of counseling is not to provide quasi-medical treatment, but to provide godly counsel and wisdom. Where Biblical Counseling (and sometimes Christian Psychology) seem to go astray is to assume that since disorders and traumas are a result of sin, they must necessarily be connected to an individual’s volitional sin, and therefore biblical wisdom and correction are all that is necessary to address them. It’s akin to assuming that the solution to a missing limb is counseling, though counseling could be helpful in giving guidance on how to emotionally cope with that loss.

On the other hand, psychology as the science of the mind is not in the business of providing biblical wisdom, any more than a surgeon is looking to lead his patients to repentance. Disorders and traumas often have a medical component that cannot simply be ended by an exercise of the will.

So in this sense a psychologist and a counselor are attempting to achieve something different, though related. The psychologist aims to address medical element of disorders, which may include providing counsel; the counselor aims to provide wisdom and guidance for living in a broken creation, which under some circumstance may require addressing disorders as medical phenomenons. The challenge, of course, is determining whether the counselee/patient needs one approach or the other. While these intramural discussions are helpful and interesting, a lot of the disagreement would be resolved if it was recognized that their intents are different.